Monday, 29 July 2013

En Guarde

You'd be forgiven for thinking I had tried to cuddle an angry feral cat if you saw my hands but you'd be mistaken. Instead my bleeding, scratched and blood blistered hands are a result of today's fencing. 

It was another morning with 10 little ones! I think our new bed time method is working - nice big feed at the front of the house and completely wrapping the pen in blanket to trap the heat. They all seem pretty hardy now and even Celine and JY are joining in with the others more. Even Bernard made it through the night! Being tiny and unable to walk he gets to stay inside for now.

So today we had to finish the fence around the house. We only had to re dig one hole but it needed to be 4ft deep - that's pretty deep. 4 ft is longer than an arm so K'Marie ended up with her head in the hole trying to empty it out (I didn't have to volunteer and that suited me just fine). Once the post was in we started tying off the wires. I'm not a natural with wire work and find the claw lacks the strength to use pliers efficiently. It was also helpful and not at all annoying that going round on a loop in my head was 'and his terrible whiskers are tougher than wire'. So the wires were strained, monkey wrenches were used, we straightened up a couple of posts by pulling them with the ute and a few hours later the fence was complete! Goat free yard (apart from a couple of the usual house goats as apparently they will always find away). 

At lunchtime we made little Bernard a jumper out of a sock to keep the little fellow cosy. It was a sunny afternoon and the kids were huddled snoozing in the sun so we took Bernard out in a polystyrene box to join them for a bit of vitamin D. We went to check the fences and when we came back the spot was shady and the kids had moved. Poor little Bernard had fallen out of the box and was splayed in the shade looking hopeless and ridiculous. I took him back inside to gentle bleats of protest and put him back by the fire (Bernard humdings). Unfortunately Bernard never warmed up properly and was a floppy little goat when we checked on him later that afternoon. We gave him the bath/hairdryer treatment, but Bernard beamed up to the great goat paddock in the sky. I felt a bit bad for taking him outside until K pointed out that a goat who couldn't cope with an hour outside was a poor goat. 

Noel came back in the evening so we made sure we had a nice meal cooked for him (as nice as we can rustle up from what we have). Noel is a very nice old man with many stories....I'm not quite sure how he's Chris' father.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Guess what! When we checked the pen this morning all 10 babies were present and correct! What a happy start to the day! I was definitely expecting at least one given the previous days track record and the fact I could see my breath as I wandered around the 'house' this morning. It was a very misty morning but Alex had us out at 8 and after kids were fed there was a fence to build.
The farm has about 1500 goats but around 200 of these are 'pets'. The pets are goats that have been hand reared and are kept to produce babies but they themselves won't ever go to slaughter. They are quite funny but for the most part a nuisance. There are a handful in particular who sleep at the house, most annoyingly Dean and his bezzie Ronnie who sleep on the deck by the warm chimney and shit everywhere. Alex won't stand for this so we are redoing the fence around the 'house' so it is a dog only yard. My morning was spent digging deep holes for straining posts, cutting my very first bit of metal (I felt very flash dance with all the sparks), using a monkey wrench (not just a song!) and all sorts of useful wire-related things. Everything is old and rusty and 'useless' according to Alex who had no patience with the previous workmanship on the fence but seemed to have endless patience with two girls who don't know a grinder from a gripple (we do now!).

He left to go to the other farm after lunch leaving K'Marie putting in another post and me with the task of taking Clifford the pig dog puppy (horse sized already) and Kip the blue healer. It was not a task I was looking forward to after chicken gate, mouldy head gate and general stories of the pigs/foxes/rabbits they've all mauled. I attached them both to the same piece of rope ne tentatively set off...they were exceptional. I have never walked two more well behaved dogs. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't let them off the rope ad I did worry about rope burn if one bolted but bar one rancid kid leg incident with Clifford I couldn't complain! We did have to turn around and go back the way we came though as 60odd goats were out and about and one poor soul was lying on the ground with one hoof (trotter? What do goats have?!) stuck very firmly in the fence. I couldn't free her alone so went to get K'Marie to help. 

When I got back the water man was back! He had come earlier with a water delivery - something of great joy as usually we have to fetch the water ourselves (again, a trip I haven't made yet as Noel has been away). I believe most of the people round here get their water delivered, farmer Chris is just tight...our delivery was a favour as the guy is building him a Dam and apparently the water is in return for dirt. So Chris isn't paying anything for it. Water man was enchanted by our little collection of kids and horrified to hear that we often ran out of water and were here for free so he brought us another tankful. Nice, hey!

We managed to free the clumsy goat and herded the others (basically a pro now) and were back in time for feeding just as Alex returned. I am a bit worried about jy as he hasn't embraced life in the nursery and does not care for the rubber teat. He is often at the back looking little and sad and lonely but he loves a snuggle with me. We nearly took him in for the night but he kept walking into the fire so he's in the pen with the others. Fingers crossed they all make it again. We are feeding them more and blocking any bit of air getting into the cage overnight, it's worked once!

We did have one little chap in with us tonight - I found him being attacked by pesky crows. He is only about 4 days old but when I came to check on him a few hours after I'd brought him in to warm up he was basically sat in the fire. The smell of burned goat is another treat. He is called Bernard. But I am not convinced he'll be with us tomorrow so I won't dwell!

Spirits dip ever so slightly in the morning as I'm a bit fed up of always being cold. I do not have workmans hands and they are already red and peely as they are constantly being washed in freezing water or eaten by goats or manipulating wire or just out in the chilly air. If anyone fancied sending gloves...!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Soon her mama with a gleaming goat herd

Another day, another dead goat. Despite checking on the little dears 3 kids died overnight. Luckily JY and Celine (my two faves) made it. Charlie left early doors leaving me, K'Marie and Alex. It was a chilly but beautifully sunny day perfect for being outside. Along with the usual goat chores we tidied the yard including fixing trailers, using tools (I now know how to use a ratchet (which isn't a spanner or a wench, FYI)) and moved some heavy things. I do not yet have workman hands and my digits are getting redder and more chapped by the day. It was also a perfect day for a nice long walk with the dogs to go and fix a fence. Now Alex has 3 pooches. Maggie the stock dog, kip a blue heeler (TERRIFYING child killing type hound) and Clifford the puppy Pig Dog. He is enormous. And bred to kill pigs. To say I am slightly afraid of these dogs would be true but Clifford the pig dog is actually a nice one. The blue one? Would not trust! Today's lasting memory will be the pig dog running towards me with something in its mouth. This turned out to be a maggot infested rotting kid head. That smell will stay with me for a while.

Having had a bit of a clean up we decided to feed the kids in the setting sun and made sure they were full to bursting and warm before putting them to bed. Fingers crossed we don't lose any tonight but there is only so much we can do with no hay and no heat lamp. 

I am already immune to the stench of goat that repulsed me on arrival. This cannot be a good sign. Tomorrow we're getting up early to build fences. Happy Wednesday, folks! 

'Maggie! Not me, the goats you dumb @&*$'

So that little goat I saved yesterday? Yup. Dead as a door nail this morning. Alongside him another weedy white one was bent double and fitting so she was given the same treatment as my pal yesterday whilst I fed all the others. On my way to the burning pile I came across a lost little one screeching in a way I haven't come across yet. I have called her Celine.

Today was Charlie's last day and passed much the same as the other two but with Alex in residence Chris and Ayrlie didn't come round. 
Alex is the most outback aussie I've met since being here. he has an off roading ute, is a jackaroo on a sheep and cattle station that is 300km from its nearest village, arrived with a swag and 3 dogs, wears an aussie hat and has various useful knives and stuff in various leather sheaths...and a very broad Scottish accent.  One of the dogs came from here and he's trying to train her as a 'stock dog' (that's sheep dog for not just sheep to those of us not in the know) and hearing an angry scot swearing loudly at his disobedient pooch was pretty funny.   When we got back to the house around 4 - surprise! - the power was out. Apparently there has been a dispute with the electric company for a while and a  'miscommunication' meant we had been cut off!  Alex, being a man of the outback, had a trangia so I channeled my inner Duke of Edinburgh awardee and heated up the kids milk so they wouldn't go to bed hungry - losing a goat a day is not something I want to continue and it has become something of a personal mission to keep them alive!

Darkness fell so we sat around the fire and a couple of candles when Shannon arrived. Now Shannon was mildly terrifying. He had turned up to go spotlighting and shoot foxes with fake Aussie Alex but the lack of power meant he couldn't charge the spotlight battery and Shannon joined us. He is a big, gruff Aussie who, prior to working in the sewers, worked in an abattoir. We were entertained with stories of both as he swigged beer and talked about his children like they were puppies. I am sure he is perfectly nice and he was quite funny but he's the type of guy who you can imagine saying 'call that a knife??' and in my current surroundings I am a little less brave than perhaps I usually am. 

The power man came about 8pm to fix the electricity and we once again had light and a tap that worked. And my electric blanket. Oh hooray 

Today's nugget of joy: apparently Murrabit and surrounds is where they rehome crims and paedos because it is far away from civilisation....

As You Wish

Day 2

Discovery of electric blanket meant I didn't freeze so the night was almost event free if you forget that my room is next to the kid pen...the little buggers scream randomly throughout the night and since I am in the middle of nowhere (had I mentioned that?) I am slightly on edge. Screaming in the dark will wake me. As will Dean, a large billy who head buts my wall. 

One of our poorly kids made it, the other was a kiddy corpse by morning so Ahmed joined the others for morning feeding. This morning we had one dead and one hypothermic weedy little one very near death. He was presented to me limp and cold so I could save him. Righty ho then. I stuck my finger in his mouth to check his temperature which was very low indeed, so sat him in front of the fire (still cold), got a hair dryer on him (still cold), bundled him in a towel (which smelled god awful) and eventually plonked him in a bucket of hot water (started to warm up). In between short fits he was completely limp and his eyes were cloudy...I was very sure I was bathing a dead goat but occasionally he let out a week scream. I put some honey on the roof of his mouth then set about drying him with my hair dryer. There really isn't anything quite like the smell of hairdryed goat. I didn't have high hopes but my challenge had been to keep him alive so I wasn't going to give up until the others had returned from morning rounds. And guess what... HE LIVED! I saved the little blighter, got some milk in him and a couple of hours later he was skipping round with the others. I'm sure the more I do this the less exciting it will become but I definitely saved his life so that's a small victory for now! 

Charlie and I left to check the fences leaving K'Marie trying to make the house a bit more sanitary. Ayrlie's attempts to save goats the day before meant there was an awful lot of goat excrement on the rug which combined with the fusty towel and newly dried goat was less than ideal.

We herded goats back into the paddock (no asbo billy this time) then spotted a dead goat stuck in a fence up ahead. When I got close I realised dead goat wasn't dead, she was very stuck and had been attacked by a cat. (The cats out here are HUGE and feral). Her back hooves were very tangled and it took a fair bit of effort to free her and her face was very bloody from the cattack. Once freed we lifted her over the fence to the right side (not a small goat) but since we are on foot carrying her back was not really an option. Ayrlie came by later and goat was still alive with a couple of kids nuzzled up to her so we popped them all in the ute and took them home. One of the kids was noisily reunited with its mother en route (very funny) and the other one has joined our menagerie. I have called her JY. Will wait to here how fence goat gets on. She was a very sad sight.

When Ayrlie and I returned Alex, a Scottish chap who used to work here and I'd heard a lot about, had arrived. Ayrlie: 'God,  am I pleased to see you. This is Tiffany'. Nice. Alex stepped out of his ute, can of xxxx in hand and within minutes his 3 dogs were tearing around the yard, one with a chook (that's a chicken to me and you) in it's mouth. Watching a mass of feathers, dogs, goats and a man with an Aussie hat and beer in hand all running round was hilarious to say the least, it just needed the Benny Hill theme! We are now a chicken down.

 We didn't see delightful Farmer Chris today because he is at home with Q fever.  An infectious disease caught from goats. I only know this because I overheard a concerned Ayrlie asking Alex if he'd had his jab....not to worry about us then!

It was nice to have a new face in the house but my overwhelming memory of today will be the image of Charlie's right armpit that hasn't been shaved for her 3 month stay. Not fine.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Day 1

Good news! I narrowly avoided freezing to death! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Peach (one of the kids) or the puppies (10 puppies were born the day I arrived). All but one of them died overnight so we woke up to a very sad Rose the dog. We wanted to bring them inside but as a working dog we were told to leave her outside.

I was expecting to be up at dawn so 830 start seemed very leisurely indeed.  After a cup of tea and the grim death discoveries we set about with task number one - feeding time!
There are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning than bottle feeding baby goats. They are all named but for the most part I can't quite work out how they are being told apart. Perhaps it's something that'll come to me in this goat...whatever it is. Once the little kiddies tummies were full (you literally squeeze them to see how full they are) it was time for task two - Fence Patrol. Goats are cheeky and sneaky clever buggers who are able to hop fences with ease. Farmer Chris is currently growing out the 'other paddock' so it is a decadent feast for his many goats. The goats can see that the grass is greener on the other side an once one makes the leap others will surely follow. We took Billy the asbo dog (as yet untrained working dog) with us on my first walk around the property.  I had attempted to find suitable footwear before leaving Sydney but apparently girls don't wear work boots, they only wear wellies that are short and purple. I was informed by farmer Chris that I 'could sort that here'. Well I hadn't exactly seen any sort of shop in the last hour of our journey so I have been given a grotty pair of million-hand boots. They are a little (4sizes) too big and not exactly (or even slightly) waterproof, but they're well walked in an they're not flip flops so they are doing the job. Again, task two wasn't a bad task for a Sunday morning given that it was essentially a country side stroll around some fields.  

We herded the escaped goats (I can't quite bring myself to shout HOY HOY HOY HUT HUT HUT like the other two yet because it is ridiculous) who were surprisingly compliant and helped a few who had their heads caught in fences. We spotted a nanny and her kid (that's mummy and baby to those not in the goat know) out of the paddock so herded them in. The kid was supposed to follow. Instead Billy the asbo dog grabbed little kid around the abdomen: cue screaming from the kid, the nanny and me. The other two attempted to restrain Billy and I was instructed to put my hand into the dogs mouth (yes, the dog that had attacked the baby goat) so he dropped it.  No skin was broken so I popped the traumatised kid over the fence and off they trotted. 

Back to the house for a quick cuppa then back out to check the fences. When we got back Farmer Chris was there with lady friend Ayrlie (I can't work out if it's Ellie, Ally or Airlie as there are quite a few accents here). I smiled and said hello. Chris pointed at a log he had just chainsawed...I guessed I was supposed to fetch it. No words. I introduced myself to Ayrlie who could not have been less interested so I busied myself fetching the firewood whilst avoiding 3 (THREE) redbacks. 

The good news was that one puppy was still alive, so rose was taken inside to the fire where Charlie was attempting to revive a kid. There was a moment that will stay with me for a while. Charlie was taking a dead kid outside, ayrlie stopped her...
'its dead' said charlie
At which point Ayrlie took the goat and placed its entire snotty, sh@*ty snout in her mouth and blew. Then held the goat to her ear and pronounced it dead. They are cute but mouth to mouth? No. Just no.

Fresh from the goat snog Ayrlie, Kaye-Marie and I were off to start the burning pile. Oh goody. This involved finding a rancid pair of gloves and hauling the dead goats onto the trailer. They were mostly kids at varying stages of decay but there was a billy too. We then drove over to the burning area, a scorched bit of the field that smells HORRENDOUS. We had a few other dead goats around and I was told to go and fetch one that was quite far under a tree/thorny bush. I had no idea what to do so I asked. 'Pick it up like you would a dead rabbit'.
'I've never picked up a dead rabbit'
'I grew up in the suburbs. I am urban'
'Back legs'
Right. I was very much breathing through my mouth and attempting not to squeal like the girl I am. I managed and also helped move the others onto the pile. Next we needed to pile up the wood. It was a fun game of 'stick or bone' as I searched for kindling. Occasionally the 'stick' had a joint. Cue fun fact - 'Bone needs to be 800 degrees to burn. If you ever want to get rid of a body then feed it to pigs'. I mean we hadn't asked. This information was completely volunteered and comforting to hear whilst in the middle of NOWHERE. I stood well back and up wind when I realised unleaded petrol was being used to start the fire. That and the smell of rotting goat and sh*t was catching the back of my throat. 

Back at the 'house' Farmer Chris was on top form asking where the heaters were, why were we using heaters when there was a fire? (There were no logs last night). Where is the black heater? In the bedroom with the electric blankets? Passive aggressive much? My ears did prick up at 'electric blanket' though so I went to find one! He left without so much as a hello, goodbye or 'how's your first day going?'. I hear this isn't uncommon and that I have got more out of him in the van than anyone else has so far. 

Aside from bottle feeding babies, herding escapees, burning carcasses, chasing eagles away and freeing clumsy/sad goats, other notable things about my new digs:
It is a shack of a house far from civilisation. You know water butts you get in gardens? The ones you collect rainwater in to water the plants? The ones that gutters lead to? Well that's where our drinking water comes from - a water butt over at another house on the farm (inhabitant currently jailed for growing and selling weed in the piggery). The water from our taps? That comes from a tank outside. A tank that we have to fill up from a smaller container that we have to take to the Murray river, fill it, then empty into the tank. I have yet to have the pleasure of that task. At the moment we have running water but it is the temperature of an alpine stream in December. The boiler leaks so 2mins only for a shower, if there is enough water in the first place. I haven't washed yet. The bathroom? Fit for washing goats. The toilet? Outside with spiders. 

The people: 2 northern girls, Kaye Marie, 20 and Charlie, 26 (who is counting down her last two days).   

Today's Nugget of Joy: They think the woman who went missing in the village next door was fed to pigs on the way to slaughter

The New Adventures of Farm Girl

So as I sat in Sydney airport waiting for my flight to a city I hadn't been to, waiting for a man I had never met to pick me up and waiting to drive with this stranger  for 4 hours into the outback and far, far away from civilisation  I decided that for the duration of my wretched regional work I would resurrect the blog to keep sane and keep an e-trail on my whereabouts. I mean I have seen wolf creek.

So aside from a minor delay and questionable neighbour in jazzy blue satin shirt my flight was uneventful. Farmer Chris (who was engaging...almost funny...over text and our phonecall) seemed pleasant enough. My backpack was put into the back of a refrigerated van next to a bit of dead pig (which was shortly moved to another van (owned nice, friendly farmer friend Jimmy). Conversation didn't exactly flow. After an hour or so I was beginning to regret not taking Caroline's suggestion of a list of small talk topics (aside: Caroline took a photo of me as I left and bid me farewell with 'please don't let me be the last person to see you'). Chris really was a man of few to no words but ran a very hot car so I was at least warm. Anyhoo hours passed, the sun set and about three hours in the radio was turned on. Questions such as 'so why did you choose goats?' Were answered with 'goats chose me'. Right, moving on then! It was like blood from a stone. We stopped in the nearest town which was hopping. It had a bowling alley! Ahem. We went to aldi where he loaded a trolley with cheap meat and full cream uht milk. Yummy. Then continued our journey into the darkness - he actually volunteered information about the river here! About an hour later we arrived at the farm. I felt foolish in a pale jumper and flip flops, more so as I stepped out into a very muddy puddle (I see a new pair in my future). The thing that struck my most on opening the door was the overwhelming aroma of goat. The goats were everywhere.

Rather than sort of repeat myself I will actually repeat myself: this sums up arrival! 

So I thought I'd update you from my new gaff. Left a gloriously sunny sydney, was met by farmer Chris who, whilst perfectly nice, will not be winning any awards for small talk. Or indeed talk. I'm reliably informed by my fellow co workers that I have had more conversation with him than they have in months. Anyhoo, I digress.
 So farmer chris and I drove in his refrigerated van for 4 hours. 4 hours away from civilisation. I have never been further away from anything before. I am literally in the middle of nowhere. Nearest town is 1hr has a bowling alley. We did stop at an aldi where Chris bought us chicken wings and full cream uht milk.
 It is muddy here - flip flops were a poor travelling shoe. There are goats everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Everything smells of goat. A baby goat died in the 'living room' this evening. Tomorrow morning first job is to sweep the paddock for abandoned kids. Save what can be saved, burn what has already croaked it. Whilst being followed by goats. The goats that are everywhere. My fellow farm workers are two northern girls. One finishes in 3 days and she looks ready to run for the hills. The other is a peppy 20year old who is only a month in. They both look greasy because 'water is precious'. So precious that we have already run out of it. 
The toilet is outside and full of goats. It is also not flushing because there is no water. The water isn't drinkable either because it is rain water. I will be showering in rain water.
 I am currently in my bed, wearing a lot of clothes and under a duvet with no sheet. It is freezing. I am wearing a hat. 
There is no Internet but my phone does work so that's a plus! Another plus is that I am finding the whole situation rather hilarious so far, but I did shower this morning and my sleeping clothes smell delightfully of fabric conditioner. I don't think this will last. The goats are peering in at my window. And bleating. They are everywhere.

 3 months is sure to fly by...